Mythbusting: Electronics will save me!
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Raise your hand if you think modern electronics systems on motorcycles are so good now that they will correct any poor riding technique...WAIT, not so fast!
Electronic systems have come a long way in a very short time. Not counting ABS, electronic rider aids such as traction control, cornering ABS, lift control and slide control have only been around since the last decade. And a lot of these systems were only available on the flagship model superbikes up until the last couple of years. In a lot of ways these systems have changed the landscape of how we view not just the value of a motorcycle, but also its ability to make us safer riders. But are these systems a substitute for proper technique? No.
The idea that an electronic rider aid is a sufficient substitute for proper riding technique is completely false. Let's review why.
We are all seeing major benefits from these technologies. The key is understanding why they were designed.
The trickle-down effect
You've heard of this model in other areas of business and economics, but it absolutely applies to the motorcycling industry as well. The electronics systems that are currently being designed and installed on today's production motorcycles were developed and engineered on the MotoGP and WSBK platforms of yesterday. And with the rate of speed technology is advancing we are seeing newer advances moving to production based motorcycles at an alarming rate.
Why is this important? Think about why these systems are being developed. A rider competing for a championship needs every advantage they can get to be able to ride faster than their competitors. These electronics systems were essentially designed to do two things. One, provide a high level of control of the functions of the motorcycle (acceleration and braking) so that the rider can maximize the output of the motorcycle. Two, be able to respond to the inputs of the rider with a pre-determined action.
As with any other motorsport, the technologies developed at the highest level are eventually tweaked for mass production, if the market calls for it. We as everyday riders are seeing some amazing benefits from this.
Sounds simple enough, right? We have a better bike today because of technology that was developed yesterday. Well, we all know there is more happening behind the scenes as far as how these systems behave and how they are designed. But for the sake of the rider and how it applies to their interaction with these systems, we need to keep it simple.
Safe riding is in the hands of the rider
Let's be blunt here. Do MotoGP level riders crash their motorcycles? Yes! I touched on this in a previous post, but it warrants further review. Why do they crash? They have the most advanced electronics systems in the world. They are also the most skilled riders in the world. Why then do they still crash?! They crash because they are constantly operating at the very limit of traction. And sometimes, regardless of the ability of the electronic aid, they still exceed the limits of available grip. The technology built into their motorcycles was designed to help them in any way it can to keep them from crashing and to allow them to ride faster.
The key here is that these systems are designed to be reactive to rider inputs.
Let's look at it another way. Think about power delivery for a second. Take two bikes, one with 20HP at the rear wheel, the other with 200HP. On the bike with 20HP, when you crack the throttle and start to build acceleration, the amount of power being delivered to the rear wheel is significantly lower than if you were to open the throttle of the 200HP bike at the same rate. So without a doubt, any kind of electronic aid on the 200HP motorcycle will allow an engineer to tune the system to correct overly aggressive rider inputs, essentially keeping that 200HP at bay until there is enough grip available to deliver that 200HP to the ground.
Can you still crash the 200HP motorcycle? Yes. Can you still crash the 20HP motorcycle? Absolutely!
So should we just whack the throttle open and let the electronic take over right? If the electronics are designed to step in when the rider is too aggressive then it should just work right? Wrong. If that were the case MotoGP riders would never crash. The current systems are really good, but still not good enough to the point where we can ignore proper technique.
It's all about balance
Champions need to take a balanced approach with these rider aids. They need to find those limits, but they cannot jump over them. The instant they find that they are riding within the boundaries of those rider aids, they know that they have not just found the limit, but they have gone beyond it. The benefit of the rider aid is that it allowed them to find that limit without a crash as the result.
So yes, the electronic aid has made finding the limit safer, but it was never designed to ignore good technique. It was designed to work with it. Let me say that in another way...electronic aids are not designed to make motorcycles crash proof.
Champions treat these aids as a guide for finding the limit, linearly. They let the bike talk to them before grip starts to go away. They never assume the bike will save them or that the technique they are applying can not be improved upon.
The balance comes into play when they need to maximize the drive and performance being delivered by the motorcycle with the limitations being put on that power delivery by the electronics. In an optimal situation, the rider would be consistently skirting up against that electronic aid, allowing it to be part of that feedback for them to know where that limit is.
Always let proper technique be your path to speed!
What should our approach be?
Ok...are you ready for this? Our technique should NOT change. Yep, plain and simple. Regardless of what the motorcycle is capable of, or what kind of electronic package it has on it, our approach to riding it should not change. 20 horsepower or 200, a ten year old superbike with no electronics or a brand new R1 with a full GP-derived system. We should ride them all with the same technique. The key is developing the ability to be an adjustable rider so that we can begin to use electronics as a guide for helping us find that limit of grip.
So where does the myth come in to play? The myth is that the electronic aid is our savior. Our easy button. Our excuse. We have to change our perspective. These electronic aids have been marketed as a way to make riding safer. This gives us a false sense of security. Thinking that we can ignore good technique and just let the bike correct our mistakes.
We need to view these rider aids as another tool. Another way to sneak up on our limits. As riders, we still want to build acceleration and throttle input from 0-100 in a linear fashion as we take away lean angle. As we get closer to and begin to sneak over that 100% of available grip, the electronic aid becomes one of our tools to provide us feedback that the limit has been reached or exceeded.
Even the best electronic aids do not make a motorcycle crash proof.